Food

How My Picky Eating Habits Went Away

little girl cooking

Every night, as a small child, my family’s dinner table was the front line of a years-long war over food. The battle cry? Three more bites

On one side of the skirmish: my loving parents who counted out remaining forkfuls like prison sentences on a plate. On the other side of the pepper mill was me, the repeat picky eater.

My stomach may have been empty, but I was full of fear. One globule of drumstick fat or the slip of a slimy mushroom would be put me off a dish for months.

During those stressful stretches of mealtime, I longed for a big, shaggy dog, who would sit at my feet, sitcom-style, like a secret garbage disposal. Our cat, Jasmine T. Fluffy, eyed me pitilessly from a corner stool instead.

“You never see any children’s skeletons at the dinner table in the morning,” my off-color father had been known to quip. He was born during the first year of the Great Depression. And, together with my mom — raised with a World War II victory garden — represented distant food origin stories that were lost on me, their Reagan-era little girl who longed for Lucky Charms but was allowed only Chex. If we were locked in battle, Dad’s tactic was to wait.

Lots of meals ended with me alone under the glow of the kitchen table lamp. Much later in life, I realized it’s not that we are what we eat, it’s how.

In our household, Mom did the cooking. But our family’s fights weren’t over whether she was a good enough cook (she was exceptional). When her hard work arrived on my plate, tears were shed — and voices raised — over my inability to even try.

I say “arrived” because that’s how my mother’s kitchen functioned: a confident one-woman restaurant run from her brown electric stove. If a sign had hung in her window, it would have read: Help Not Wanted.

From the doorway, I watched her hands flutter over simmering pots and cutting-boards like those of a mysterious alchemist; “The Joy of Cooking” propped open to her spells. But, to a picky eater, this siloed ritual rendered every roast a dreaded mystery meat with unidentified sides and “touching” sauces on the plate as scary to me as UFOs.

Looking back, I wish I could have told her: let me come in and cook with you. Because the problem, I’ve learned, with modern mealtime is there are actually too few cooks in the kitchen. Especially kids.

I realized this as an adult when, once upon a dinner party conversation, I recounted that my favorite food growing up had been fried trout. My grilled cheese-loyal friends were impressed; what an adventurous eater I must have been!

But my father was a fly fisherman and would often let me wade into the frigid Rogue River alongside him. I would lay each catch inside his damp, grass-lined basket, then, when we got home, observed Mom clean and gut their silvery bodies in the sink. All of it was icky: unpleasant smells, foggy eyes and gooey bits. But I wanted fried trout all the time as a little girl — crispy fan tails and all.

Thinking back, the fear I often experienced with food was transformed into familiarity with this one meal. It was like being given a night light in a dark bedroom. By letting me dunk the fish in egg yolks and drag them through flour, the boogieman on my plate turned out to be a finger-licking favorite.

As an adult, I finally realized the searing failure one can feel when a loved one rejects your food. My mother, then in her late 60s and recovering from a stem cell transplant, became my charge. I was suddenly a childless parent, a caretaker consumed with Mom’s daily consumption of calories, protein and water. We lived in a bubble as her newborn immune system matured; I took over the grocery shopping and meal-planning. And with her strength sapped, Mom finally invited me into her kitchen for help.

There were some nights she would request a dish I’d prepare only for her to push it away. Her palate was a moving target depending on the drugs she took to survive. I fretted over her nourishment, trying to find anything that sounded good, seeing my frustration in her decades earlier. I wondered how she had mustered the patience and culinary creativity to get me through all those frozen bags of peas.

There was one thing she wanted all the time: chocolate milkshakes. Calories? Check. Nutritious? Nope. As her Nurse Ratched, I rebranded them as smoothies and remember when, between scoops of baking cocoa powder and whey protein, I slipped avocado and kale into the blender, too. As she watched all of the green going into her sweet treat, her eyes narrowed at me and she let out a frowny “yuck.” I bargained with her: taste it and will go to McDonald’s if it’s a dud. But it was a hit! Creamy and thick as her favorite drive-thru order.

I became addicted to winning over her taste buds. After all, we weren’t fighting a battle over food, we were fighting for her life.

A few years later, Mom passed away. And then, my father, too. Among their belongings, I have a box of family cookbooks and recipe cards that read like road maps I’ve never driven or even hitchhiked. All adventures I missed out on. I still don’t know how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey (as a pescatarian, I just shrug). And while I hate mayonnaise in tuna salad, I like an extra side of tartar sauce with my fish and chips. Culinary quirks only a mother would indulge.

As a picky eater, I am not entirely reformed. I have passionate likes and dislikes, but no more fear. I crave all vegetables, except eggplant. But I do love eggs (unlike Mom who despised them). My fussiness probably frazzles chefs, but in the last year, I’ve had to please only myself in the kitchen. Bon Appetit to my lone appetite.

I really want to tell my parents it all turned out okay. To be honest, I’d give anything to be at that dinner table again with them, baked zucchini rounds getting cool on my plate. Because the real joy of cooking is the eating together part — I just wish we had cooked together, too. Then dinnertime would have been more about counting memories made than bites not taken. More fried trout; less stalemates.

So, please, all you parents stuck in the kitchen: let your children in. Let them stir and grate and roll the dough. Let them lick the spoon and pour in the flour too quickly. Yes, it’s messier and maybe a little more time-consuming. But they won’t just learn how to cook, they’ll learn how to eat. Teach them a recipe for living. Inspire a lifetime of trying (for early palates, at least 10 to 15 times). Hey, salty tears are seasoning, too!


Erika is a writer, producer and co-creator of Waffles + Mochi, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions and Netflix. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner and their four-footed picky-eater, Hazel. Say “hi” at helloerika.com and listen to your vegetables with @wafflesandmochiofficial.

P.S. 7 tips for picky kids and how to encourage kids to eat vegetables.

(Photo by Marco Govel/Stocksy.)

  1. Jane I. says...

    I love this essay so much!!! Some of my greatest childhood memories are about helping my mom in the kitchen. I can’t wait to pass on the tradition to my own baby. Also, Waffles & Mochi is a favorite in our home!! What a great concept for a show.

  2. I became addicted to winning over her taste buds. After all, we weren’t fighting a battle over food, we were fighting for her life.
    Great story I must say. :)

  3. Jessica says...

    For the past year, my 10 year old has been making dinner for our family once a week. She has been taking this amazing online cooking class through The Dynamite Shop (https://www.thedynamiteshop.com/), which I highly, highly recommend. She is learning independence, knife skills, and openness to new flavors and new dishes. It isn’t making her immediately non-picky, but it is totally awesome!

  4. Angeline says...

    I was definitely a picky eater extraordinaire growing up — my older siblings, who were all teenagers by the time I was a toddler, used to dread having to feed me at the dinner table, because I would chew my food but then simply hold it on my tongue and refuse to swallow. They said it felt like their arms would fall off before I would take a bite of the food they were proffering me, lol. No aeroplane or chugging choo-Choo train sound/special effects would entice tiny toddler me to unclamp my firmly closed mouth. I was a tough audience! 😂

    When I got older my parents would tell me that any uneaten morsels of food on my plate would wind up looking like my complexion — namely spotty/acne ridden — to get me to clean my plate. It was hokey as hell but we were all deeply superstitious so it worked to a certain extent, even though I totally scoffed at it. My friends later told me that they got varying versions of the same old wives tale — some were told it would be their future partner’s complexions at stake instead of their own if they didn’t finish all their food, for instance. It didn’t fully solve my many issues with food — I despised having my food “wet” with soup because it turned the whole thing mushy and unappetizing and utterly inedible, but my brother loved to douse his rice with whatever soup was on the table, shudder. I also didn’t like my food to be touching the ketchup or each other, and I refused to eat anything that tasted bitter or left a sour aftertaste such as certain types of lettuce and arugula. I disliked certain foods for leaving an unpleasant texture of wet sand that would coat my tongue to the exclusion of all other tastes — baked beans for instance are a particular bugbear for me, being both soggy and sandy in texture. But all these things were hard to articulate as a child and even if I had found the words for them, my harried parents wouldn’t have believed me or been able to accommodate them, wrapped up as they were with the day-to-day concerns of family life. Nor would they have had the time or inclination to allow me into the kitchen to help with the cooking. My mother was more likely to beat me off with a “Haiyah! More trouble than help!” because they were more afraid of me accidentally burning myself or the house down than me not finishing my food! Also they would not have entertained the idea of me “helping” coz they couldn’t stand the idea of wasting perfectly good food in the name of experimentation — what one commenter said earlier about simply buying more eggs to allow her kids to make a mess in the kitchen so long as they were involved in the cooking process would have been totally anathema to my parents. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting extra eggs/flour/whatever to involve your kids in the kitchen. It was just that being solidly middle class with 4 growing kids meant our household budget couldn’t afford extraneous stuff like that — any extra $$ would have been socked away for college costs, school fees, sports equipment for my athletic siblings, etc.

    So to each family their own, but my picky eater ways came back to bite me when I was tasked with feeding my little nephew during a holiday gathering at my parents when I was in my 20s. He did the exact same thing I used to do — take a bite, chew, then refuse to swallow! All while my arm went numb from trying to get him to take the next spoonful. Karma!!!

    • E says...

      My grandmother used to say “Haiyah!” too <3

  5. Pam says...

    I loved this post so, so much! What hooked me was the author’s aversion as a child to “globules of fat” because I can certainly relate to that! I hated any sight of fat on meat so much so that I rarely ate meat as a child and dinner time often ended in stubborn matches between myself and my parents, with me usually sitting at the table until (mostly) all of the meat was consumed. Even now, I trim all fat off of steak, chicken, pork, etc. and do the same for my kids! haha

  6. E says...

    Therapist and mom here. Humans have the right to choose what they consume. This is about consent and body autonomy. How different is it to force a child to try mayonnaise than to force them to hug a problematic uncle. If adults have the right to make these decisions for themselves and then accept the natural consequences (i.e. no veggies, you get constipated) — why do we feel differently about the rights of children? Yes, introduce your children to all sorts of foods. Make them available and appetizing. Don’t cook multiple meals. But also respect their personal boundaries.

    • Lauren says...

      Totally agree. It drives me crazy when my mother-in-law tells my children they need to clear their plates or “3 more bites” to get dessert. We don’t reward with dessert (we just serve it on occasion, not conditional) and think kids need to learn to decide what and how much to eat for themselves.

  7. Emma says...

    If I’m cooking with the kids I just buy an extra dozen eggs and use a sieve. They can break as many as they like and I just sieve out the shells. Voila – no stress!

  8. AI says...

    I resonate with this so strongly! I was such a picky eater and I hated being tricked. If I was snuck a piece of turnip when I was expecting potato… that was it – my appetite would be gone and I wouldn’t be able to take another bite out of resentment and fear of what else could be in my food.

    I think for me living alone during university and then over the last year during the pandemic – I really started to cook for myself, watch cooking shows, and discovered the little intricacies of cooking – making me feel at peace about what I was eating and being able to savour it.

    I’m alllll for involving kids in the kitchen now. I love watching Kobe Eats on IG – this squishy baby-turned-toddler who experiments and tastes everything while his mom lets him make the dish of the day <3

    • Traumatized Chinese Gal says...

      Oy vey, I relate to this so hard. I mentioned in a previous post that my mum once tricked me into eating congealed pig’s blood (which tastes totally nasty btw), and it destroyed my trust in her and the food she prepared from that day onwards. I KNEW something was up but seven-year-old me naively trusted her when she persuaded me it was just like jelly… Ever since then I looked askance at any new foods she tried to introduce and flat out refused to try it. The fear of what else could be in my food was a very real and debilitating worry, and from then on I would only eat things that were clearly identifiable — chicken wings, drumsticks, fish, prawns, etc, nothing that came in unusual shapes/sizes or mysterious lumps slathered in sauce.

  9. Kate the Great says...

    I’m so glad this realization about fish has given you peace about your childhood. But helping to prep food= not picky is not true with my kids, unfortunately. I’ve tried it. They still refused to eat the meal they helped prepare.

    I’m convinced it’s genetic. Their grandpa, my husband’s father, is extremely picky, and so is my husband.

    Fine. More basil pesto and tomatoes for me.

    • I totally agree. I loved going fishing with my dad but would I eat our catch? HECK NO. I am still a picky eater (and ashamed of it) but seem to make progress each year. I wish I were one of those people who is excited to try everything and anything, but I’m just…not.

      As an adult, I now have three classes of food in my head: love, hate and can-tolerate-but-I-don’t-get-the-appeal. But it’s progress.

    • Tara says...

      Yeah, totally with you here, Kate. My picky eaters will happily clean, chop and prepare whatever we are eating for dinner and then refuse to take a single bite. And I have four, all raised on the exact same dinners and with widely varying tastebuds. My 11yo will eat any kind of meat or carb but barely any fruits/veggies, my 8yo has declared himself a vegetarian-except-for-hot-dogs, my 6yo cries about every meal set in front of her but once she gets it out, usually tries it and likes it and my 3yo will eat just about anything. I used to believe it was nurture over nature and now firmly think they are just born the way they are!

  10. Nicole says...

    My mom is notorious for cooking alone. Then when I moved out of the house to my college town at 18, I worked in food service and had the majority of my meals at work. Got my degree, got out into the real world, met my husband, and he was like, “Please retire the Spaghettios!” I enjoy cooking together for two now!

  11. Phoebe says...

    I want to say something – in my culture, women are traditionally the cooks of the family. In fact in SE Asia, women’s rights are almost negligent. Until recently (or even currently) most of the families/marriages happen around the girl’s ability to cook and clean and run a house. No matter the education, no matter the family background, no matter what the girl did; her worth was only with the dishes she could cook, run a family and look after the children.
    My mother was a trailblazer and decided she won’t ever let her girls be mere “cooks” and wanted us to have an education and live life freely, just like any boy in our society does. We were queens of our house and my mom would never make us enter the kitchen except for placing demands for more bread or to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
    I eventually got a PhD, moved to the USA and am living life the way my mother envisioned. And yes, now I do cook regularly but enjoy it since it isn’t forced upon me and is not the yardstick by which my worth is measured ( I was equally lucky to marry a man who agrees).
    Why did I write this whole essay? Because to me, bringing a child into a kitchen feels weird. I grew up eating whatever was put in front of me at dinner time because my mother made sure I ate what I loved and somehow secretly expanded my palette and food experiences without forcing it on me. Cooking is a life skill and should be taught to older kids ready to live on their own maybe, but asking smaller kids to come into the kitchen is a new western phenomenon I’m witnessing. Some kids love it and it helps picky eaters maybe, but show this to any SE Asian family and they will wonder why. I’m not a fan of any of the cookery shows for kids either. No surprise. Kitchen and cooking will always be part of adult lives so kids should enjoy kitchen free time when they can!

    • Lucy says...

      Hi, fellow SE Asian here. I felt compelled to reply becoz you’ve described my family dynamics almost to a tee. My mum hated being confined to the role of homemaker and family cook, and her disdain/resentment at having to cook 3 meals a day every day for her husband and kids meant that her daughters also saw cooking as a drudgery and chore. She would never have stood to have kids in the kitchen with her during the cooking process because she would have just seen that as an extra hindrance slowing her down during an already unpleasant task, not to mention an additional mess that she’d have to clean up as well. My older sister reacted by shunning it entirely, deliberately never learning how to cook and hiring a maid as soon as humanly possible to handle that drudgery for her family, while the other sister relies on a commercial meal delivery service (something that’s quite common here in SE Asia) approximating home cooked food — rice, 2 veg and a meat and sometimes soup — that is dropped off daily in a tiffin carrier. For myself, I eventually learned to cook simple meals, but even then only when the mood strikes — I find the whole ingredients-prepping process of cleaning, chopping, dicing, marinating and then washing up all the pots and pans later totally exhausting and more trouble than it’s worth. (Funnily enough I do enjoy baking but that’s probably because of my sweet tooth.) I do watch cooking shows but I can never get over how pristine the set kitchen is and how everything is laid out perfectly in exact measurements and already washed/chopped/diced/dried/cured/pitted etc by the phalanx of invisible assistants behind the scenes for the preternaturally chirpy chef on TV, whereas all that busywork would be mine and mine alone should I ever decide to tackle that dish!

      I was/am also a picky eater and I totally agree, I’m not sure that involving kids in the meal cooking process would help any. Firstly because as many commenters here have said, it’s sometimes more of a texture than taste issue; even if they know what’s being cooked it doesn’t mean the kid will like eating it. Secondly, and this is closer to my experience as well, because it’s oftentimes a battle of wills between the kid and the parents and it’s a race to see who can outlast the other. For Asian parents a lot of it boils down to the issue of “face” — they take it very personally if their kids reject their food or heaven forbid say it’s no good! I despised the veg my mum cooked coz it just tasted bitter or mushy or slimy or some combo of the above. Like I hate ladies fingers (okra) coz of the slightly slimy texture and that triggers my gag reflex, but my parents would think I was doing it on purpose just to spite them! Asian parents also tend to insist that kids eat a certain amount of food at every meal and override/ignore the kid if they tell them they’re already full, which again leads to the kid feeling like they have no autonomy over their own body, not to mention feeling condescended to when parents dismiss their food likes or dislikes. Yes I get that most kids would probably eat nothing but deep fried chicken nuggets or chips if they could have their own way, and science has shown that we need to be exposed to a new food at least 15 times or so before we acquire the taste for it, but I also feel there’s nothing wrong with taking the child’s preferences into account when meal planning. Not saying parents need to bend over backwards to accommodate the kid and cook a second different meal for them every time, but a little consideration would have gone a long way to removing all the tension at mealtimes for me. For example I never understood why as a child I was dismissed if I stated that I disliked beans, but when I got to be an adult people immediately took me seriously when I said I didn’t like or eat beans, no questions asked. All of this to say, it’s definitely a complicated issue and bringing the child into the kitchen at a very young age is no guarantee of curing picky eaters, also kids helping to cook still feels very much like a Western phenomenon to me.

    • My family is also SE Asian and we had a similar dynamic when it came to women and cooking and worth but because I was growing up in America, my mom wasn’t concerned that I’d buy into that judgment.
      She taught both my brother and I to cook simple foods early on so we could fend for ourselves. She worked so much it had more to do with kids needing to eat, not because it was something a girl had to learn. I now deeply regret not managing to find time to learn more recipes from her before she died.

  12. Karen says...

    I followed Penelope Leach’s advice when my kids were young. This was it, if I remember correctly: Prepare one dinner, or whatever meal, for the family. Offer everything but let the child eat (and not eat) what they want, including dessert. Always have a plain but healthy snack available that they can have anytime they want. The same snack all the time, so it’s not that interesting. This worked out great, no power struggles around food and the kids ate well.

    • beck says...

      This snack advice works: growing up my mom kept a giant fruit bowl on the coffee table, always full with the standard trifecta of apples, bananas and oranges. Grapes as available. Whenever we would whine about a snack the rote response was, “have an apple!”, said as if it were the obvious thing. So we would. Simple. To be fair as a tween I developed a single tweek to make it more interesting: melt a handful of chocolate chips in a ramekin and dip peeled orange wedges into it. Kept me going for years haha. Also I learned to bake and was always allowed free reign in the kitchen. We had no processed snacks in the house at all. Seems remarkable looking back but my parents did not keep snacks in the house at all – we had the fruit bowl.

  13. Loren says...

    For parents of children who are struggling with sensory issues:
    There is an app called Therapeutic Listening by Vital Links with specially engineered music called Quickshifts. I’m an occupational therapist and use them all the time as background music during my treatments. There is one called Oral Motor/Respiratory that is very helpful for mealtimes. You can play it on a speaker or over headphones.
    I also recommend a book called Cure Your Child With Food by Kelly Dorfman with many excellent suggestions for helping kids be more tolerant. There is another book called It’s Not About the Broccoli that has great strategies for super picky eaters.
    One thing I have found to be helpful is to have parents make sure that the child is very very hungry at mealtimes, then serve the most nutritious food first and tell the child he can have the rest of the meal when that food is eaten. One mom texted me saying her son, who lived on Oreos, Goldfish, and Froot Loops, had eaten peaches, avocado, quinoa, edamame, and salmon after she had stopped doling out snacks, and taken him to the playground for some running around before lunch.

    • Susan says...

      Thank you for the book recommendations, I just checked out It’s Not About the Broccoli from the library. Funny thing is, my daughter loves broccoli, it’s so many other things she won’t try.

      Agree with you about feeding them nutritious food first, while they are hungry. She will wolf down cucumbers and carrots while waiting for dinner to cook. Maybe I should try new foods then too!

  14. Angel says...

    My picky child likes to help me cook – then won’t eat what she makes! Oh well. My husband is picky too. Hard to win in my house.

    • alexis says...

      Same with my kid! She’ll enthusiastically help in the kitchen but that doesn’t mean she’s going to agree to eat what we’ve made together – even when she’s involved in the recipe planning and shopping too! Lovely if it works for others, just doesn’t work for us I guess.

    • Fiona Wallace says...

      same thing. Just because it’s fun project doesn’t mean the kid will put the result into her body.

    • Naomi says...

      same here.

      Ever since he was about 3, my kid has helped me make the best pasta from scratch. He’s a natural! But then at dinner time, he’ll only eat the usual one from the packet.

      Nevertheless, I do think it is good advice to get picky-eating kids to help in the kitchen. Overall, it does contribute to their number of positive experiences with food. But it’s not the universal solution it is often proclaimed to be.

  15. Elizabeth says...

    Thank you for sharing this story – as a fellow picky eater (to the point where its a family joke known to my parents, siblings, grandparents, and aunts, uncles and cousins to this day how I was so stubborn as a child and would never finish my dinner that one time my mother even shut the dining room lights off while I was still sitting there!), this really hits home for me! I learned to cook after I turned 30 years old and agree that it really changes your perspective and relationships with those closest to you.

  16. Laura says...

    At our house we had a ‘no thank you’ helping. Ie: broccoli? ‘no thank you’ means one piece got added to your plate. The deal was try everything, if you like it, there is more, if not, at least you tried.

    Also, it was framed as manners. Someone has made this for you, and it is basic manners to accept graciously. Which means we did the same as guests in other homes.

    • Rachel L says...

      My dad had a great policy which sounds similar to your family…his rule was ‘you can serve yourself, and you can take or as much as little as you like…but you must take something of everything and you must finish whatever is on your plate’ This worked so well – gave us autonomy over our serving sizes, got us to try new things and it also worked the other way…if we were greedy and took too much of something we loved, we soon found that moderation is the best way!!

  17. Laura says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this essay and for Waffles + Mochi. I watched it with my kids and loved it as much as they did.

    They have fun using texture and the five tastes to describe what they are eating and have enjoyed playing around with flavors by adding a tiny pinch of salt or some lemon to their dinners. They even tried out a mango with a little bit of vinegar. It’s definitely an inspiring show for me and my tiny chefs.

  18. Lauren says...

    It’s so interesting to hear everyone’s experiences as a child- how strict their parents were and how that formed decisions of what they’ll do with their kids. For me personally, my parents were definitely clean plate club advocates. I had to eat everything they cooked. They also didn’t buy any snack food or “kid” foods. Looking back now, I credit that as the reason I’m very much un-picky about food. I had to keep trying things until I stopped disliking them. But from the comments, I see people have had the exact opposite experience as me! I wonder if the reason I didn’t resent them is that I knew that they genuinely liked everything they wanted me to eat? They loved veggies and I always knew they liked trying new food. They also grew a lot of veggies in our garden. So when they asked me to eat things even when I was being difficult, I felt like they just wanted me to try and like things; they weren’t just imposing their will.

    My own expected approach probably lies somewhere in the middle of laissez faire and clean plate club: getting kids involved in the garden/kitchen/grocery shopping, conveying excitement around food, being persistent about getting kids to try new things without forcing them to eat large quantities (e.g., try 3 bites of this food/letting them know it’s ok to not like things at first but to stay open minded) but admittedly I don’t have a kid yet (at least not until September) so who knows how this will go!

    It was super eye opening though to read from some folks about food aversions related to autism, etc. I hadn’t thought of that before and it’s something I will definitely keep in mind!

    Anyway, thanks to the author of the article and commenters for all the interesting thoughts!

  19. Emily says...

    I was a picky eater, known to linger at the table until 10 pm over my stubbornness to eat even a single Lima bean (I mean-come on!). I outgrew my pickiness only after leaving home for college where I was exposed to all manner of foods I tried and loved, as well as to the concept of enjoying dinner conversation and company instead of fighting over what was or wasn’t eaten. A few things I learned when I became a mom-1. exposure to healthy foods is as important as trying the foods. Most children go through a picky phase, the key is that they sit at a dinner table where others consume a range of healthy foods. After enough exposure they’re likely to consume the food too. 2. Enjoyment of the time spent together during a meal may be more important than what is consumed. The act of eating together, of conversation and ritual and time at the end of a day-these imprint on a child forever. 3. Less attention paid to the pickiest eater(s) often aids them in outgrowing the pickiness faster. My 13 year old will now try anything and often likes most of it and I completely credit my commitment to not fight w him about food when he was younger. I refused to turn it into a thing and it hasn’t become one.

    When I was pregnant and interviewing pediatricians, the one I chose for my son told me he felt there were two crucial parenting commitments we should make-to vaccinate and to gather together for dinner as often as we could. He told me a commitment to the latter would help us stem any number of problems our child might potentially face-from bullying to addiction, depression to tech overuse. I couldn’t agree more. When parents of younger kids ask me how I’ve raised a participatory, curious and engaged kid I often say, We eat dinner together. And we enjoy it!

    (I realize enjoying dinner together as a family implies a level of privilege many don’t have and I want to acknowledge my awareness of that privilege xo)

    • Kate says...

      I’ve read somewhere that eating together is actually in the meal guidelines for France – like how we have a food pyramid for the different food groups and theirs includes eating with others!

      Your comment also reminded me of a common refrain around the family dinner table growing up, “Mind your own plate” which I have internalized and my parents applied to us as children as well. Don’t worry or comment about what others are or are not eating. But oh boy, spending time with an ex-partner’s Italian family where they commented on every single thing happening on my plate to me was the RUDEST thing!

  20. Emily says...

    We have family “movie” and pizza nights on Fridays and we just finished our last episode of Waffles + Mochi. It was such a huge hit and both kids (8 and 5) and parents loved it! Thank you for being part of creating such a great show! And thanks for such a beautiful essay.

  21. liz says...

    Almost skipped over this one (don’t have kids, yaddah yaddah) but happy I didn’t. Such a beautiful essay! Thank you!

  22. Cynthia M says...

    Good advice! I have two kids that were not picky eaters and one that, at 9, has finally gotten over most of his pickiness. Mostly I catered to it and would sometimes beg him to try at least one bite of what we ate. I was more worried about him getting some food on his skinny bones than fighting to get him to eat like the rest of us!
    Now he will eat salmon but his teenage sister won’t anymore!

  23. Rosalie says...

    I love this perspective! It’s a good reminder to me to invite the kids into the kitchen more.

  24. Q says...

    Question for the group: is picky eating in children a western phenomena or is it universal? When I talk to my Asian family, it is unheard of. Sure, kids have their dislikes, but picky eating is not an issue in my huge family. Everyone always say I am so ‘lucky’ that my kids eat everything, but I don’t know if ‘lucky’ is the right word. Maybe I just have a different mindset to food and mealtimes?

    • Anu says...

      I wonder about this too. I grew up in India, and there was the occasional picky kid, but most kids ate most things, including all the vegetables. I was an extreme omnivore growing up, and will still eat more or less anything. Whatever it is, it’s not genetic, because I have a 3 year old now, who despite all my efforts to involve him in cooking, present food nonjudgmentally etc. etc. still turns his nose up at most fruits and vegetables. It has been humble pie for me, as one parent mentioned below. I’ve decided to follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility approach, where I decide what’s served and when and he gets to decide which of the foods served to eat and how much. The other piece of that is being considerate without catering – always offering a “safe” food with every meal but one that is a part of the meal not something separate – so he loves salmon so if that’s part of the menu, that’s the safe food, or rice if we’re having a curry, things like that. And then just shutting up about the food – no “one more bite”, no “just try it you’ll like it” etc.

      Sometimes I wonder if the easier time that Asian parents seem to have with the picky eating thing is because the way in which we ate more naturally lends itself to this kind of approach? Most dinners growing up in India were rice based – it was all served family style, the rice was the main thing really, and there were usually 3 or 4 side dishes that everyone could help themselves too. Everyone ate rice, but you could pick and choose which of the other things you ate. It did make for lower pressure than a typical Western style meal. I remember too that my parents generally didn’t make a huge deal of the few things I was picky about. They occasionally bugged me about just trying a bite, but for the most part I was allowed to do my thing.

    • Kate says...

      To be honest, and I have no kids and no picky eaters among my siblings, I just think it is something that can get out of hand based on a combination of the child’s proclivities and the parent’s reaction to them. The line about a globule from a drumstick or a slippery mushroom definitely gives some insight into the mind of someone whose appetite can be easily turned off by food, because that does sound truly disgusting. But there is a book someone mentioned in the comments about how to overcome pickiness, even as an adult. I think it can be a combination of a naturally arising issue with textures/flavours, but also control. The harder you try to ply a child to eat something it seems the more they might resist. If you don’t make it an issue, then it’s not an issue. They have some autonomy over their own body and will eat what and when they want. As another commenter said, if their child doesn’t want to eat dinner they can have some bread and a yogurt before bed so at least they’ve eaten something. Every culture has people who have food sensitivies/allergies and each person has their own preferences. It just seems parents need to find a balance somewhere between making dinner a battle and completely catering to their child’s wants..perhaps it is easier for some parents than others and this could sometimes be cultural.

    • Laura says...

      I do think it’s a Western thing, partially because of how we tend to cook and eat in general in this part of the world- lots of processed or pre-packaged foods for convenience that lack fresh produce. Then when you introduce things like certain vegetables, the kid is confused and probably already hooked on the high sugar and sodium content of processed junk, so less likely to enjoy it.

    • genivieve says...

      I wonder how much it has to do with the generally very low quality of fruits and vegetables available now. Fruits are sold literally green – before the complex sugars and flavors have had time to develop and vegetables are gorgeous looking but often equally flavorless. Living on a small organic farm has really highlighted the difference produce grown in rich soil has to even commercial “organic” produce.

    • Irina says...

      Hmm, that’s a great question! I think there are many factors that contribute to “picky” eating and the culture around eating is one of them. I’m sure there are “picky” eaters all around the globe but I wonder if it is more common in the U.S. In this country, many parents serve their children special “kids’ food” that is different from what the adults eat, like fish sticks, chicken nuggets, plain buttered pasta, plain cheese pizza, unseasoned peas and carrots from a can or from the freezer, ketchup as a dip with everything, etc. These foods appeal to kids because of their bland and/or sweet taste and plain texture. Getting used to these “easy” foods can make it harder for kids to learn to like foods that are more strongly flavored, spicy, or texturally complex.

      That being said, my husband, whom I wrote about in another comment, was a very “picky” eater as a child, despite growing up in Russia and being offered all the same foods that the adults in his family ate, never any special “kid” foods. So like I wrote above, culture is just one factor.

  25. Libbynan says...

    Sooooo good! I grew up in a fairly disadvantaged family….right on the poverty line. My mom was a full-time homemaker. My sister and I grew up on her kitchen floor. First she would give us tastes of whatever she was cooking. Later she would ask us to fetch something from the cupboard or the refrigerator. Then we would peel potatoes or carrots or shell peas. I have even plucked fresh-killed chickens sitting on my grammy’s back stoop. We were intimately acquainted with all stages of preparing a meal from earliest childhood. It would never have occurred to us not to eat anything on our plates. Of course, our diet was fairly limited to whatever was cheapest that week. But my mom was a good and fairly adventurous cook and we were right there under her feet while she cooked. Being part of the process is a major component for children. This is not as easy to do now as it was then, but I urge parents to do their best.

  26. Christa says...

    Yes to this and to allowing children to help with all kinds of household tasks. Children are remarkably capable!!! My daughter attends a Waldorf school and they teach children as young as three how to cut vegetables for soup they make together once a week, the children make and bake bread once and week, and make rice or oats once a week. We’ve never had an issue with having her eat anything—though I’m certain that some of that just comes down to her own personality/palate (she even slurped up raw oysters as a toddler—a taste I certainly had to acquire.) But yes to empowering humans of all ages and sizes to greater independence! Link for a great child-appropriate kitchen knife: https://www.bellalunatoys.com/products/vegetable-crinkle-cutters

    • Allison says...

      Much as I’d love to take credit for my first child’s adventurous palate, my second has set me straight. My first one loves raw oysters and gooey cheeses and will give anything a try and my second would rather eat plain cereal or noodles at every meal and often doesn’t want to even taste things. We just do our best to not make the meal about the food and make it instead about the conversation. The food will be there when he is ready and if he has porridge for dinner some nights while he is little, so be it.

  27. Sara says...

    I’m sure I am in a small minority here, but this essay really rubbed me the wrong way. I found myself feeling angry in the middle of it and had to reflect on why. Why are we always blaming the mother? The author was a picky child with a mother who served her healthy meals every evening, which we can blame on the mother? For not letting her daughter help in the kitchen? And her favorite meal was fried trout because her dad got to have a grand time fishing with his child while her mother was stuck with the task of gutting and cleaning? Ooof, this hits me hard. For some (like myself), cooking is me time. For others, maybe it’s a grand dash and 15 minutes to get something on the table. Maybe for others, it’s a miracle to get anything on the table at all.

    • Sara says...

      p.s. We ADORE Waffles and Mochi

    • kmb says...

      Yup. That was my feeling, too.

    • Susan S says...

      I also noted those points. But my most adverse reaction was to the term “picky eater.” The more accurate term based on what we now know is “sensitive eater.” Kids like this often are sensitive in many areas, with food being just one of those areas. Many of the sensitivities come down to texture, not just taste, and to acceptable foods touching unacceptable on the plate. Looking back, I see now that my issues with food had to do mostly with vegies, which both of my parents boiled until they were mush. I just could not eat them. If either of my parents had offered a raw carrot instead of a mushy cooked carrot I would have eaten it happily, but that never happened. The other issue was lack of choice – the dinner menu was potatoes and protein, both of which I liked, and a seriously overcooked vegie, which I did not like.

      In contrast, at my grandparents’ homes, vegetables never were cooked to mush. And best of all, there was a choice of vegies on the table, often including raw carrot and celery sticks. That choice meant that my grandparents did not mind if I did not want turnips as my vegie, because I would happily eat raw carrots and celery!

      And that is the idea i offer you – find the things that your child likes and serve them, even if it means you offer up raw carrot and celery sticks at every meal.

  28. Dahlia says...

    I was a “picky eater” in the Reagan era, too. There were also “funny” stories about how as an infant I screamed bloody murder if my parents set me down in grass. It took years, but eventually my parents accepted with a shrug that I couldn’t hear them when I read. It wasn’t until I was nearly 50 that I understood what all that meant: sensory sensitivity. Not enough that it’d be called a sensory processing disorder, but enough that it affects my lived experience very intensely. A physical therapist, for instance, once told me that I had “the best body awareness of anyone” she’d ever worked with. Which… isn’t necessarily going to be an easy body to live in.

    “The Highly Sensitive Person”, by Elaine Aron is not a book I like. I don’t care for her tone or perspective. It also contains information that immeasurably improved my life. Once I understood what was up — that I’m among the 20% of human people (Aron says this is found to be the case among many other species as well!) who perceive with unusual acuity and process their sensory data with more intensity — so much made sense. Not hearing when I read? That’s hyperfocus, and it’s a survival skill. Being able to hear and smell things other people don’t notice? Makes me a whiz on the sailboat where I live; I know when the engine smells different, when the wind is picking up because I hear it singing in our rigging, I can find what’s making that weird little sound because I can follow it and we can see which of the machines that support our life need attention. It’s believed that this, evolutionarily, is just what people like me are for: we pick up the details extra quickly and that helps keep everyone safe.

    It also means that I am much happier and calmer if I take a lot of care of my nervous system. I do best in soft fabrics that don’t restrict my movement. It is better to have group meals outdoors than indoors if possible so I’m not overwhelmed by the sounds. I can be calmer and focus better if I turn the music off for important conversations. And if I am not able to do take care, I get overstimulated. I feel overwhelmed and disoriented and my cognitive abilities lessen. I can self-soothe by going for a walk in nature, practicing meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, by lying down for a while in a quiet place.

    Understanding my particular flavor of neurodiversity sooner would have made a lot of difference in my life. I hope that what I’ve said helps someone to understand that “picky eater” is a cue that you might observe that child for sensory sensitivity. It isn’t a sure thing, but it’s common enough that it’s wise to check.

    • nadine says...

      oh thank you so much Dahlia for writing this comment. It resonates with me a lot. I’m going to look more into it.

  29. K says...

    wow this was so so beautiful. the layers to this story!

    let children cook and they’ll learn to cook and eat, the labor will also be shared and looked forward to, win win win!

    i was the worst picky eater ever, then i was down to try anything, at this point i’m minimalistic and settling on my favorite food-as-medicine ingredients.

  30. erin zivic says...

    My kids love Waffles + Mochi! It’s definitely influenced their willingness to try new things and participate more in the kitchen. And I continue to work on my tolerance for taking the long road (i.e. flour all over the place, arguments about whose turn it is to stir, desires to crush eggs and their shells all together, etc.). Thank you!

  31. Elise G says...

    This rang true for me on so many levels. I was an intensely picky eater growing up, and my parents’ approach was similar. I remember sitting alone in the kitchen after my parents and siblings had finished their dinners, staring down at my untouched, now-cold, steamed broccoli and carrots. Dinner was stressful for me as a kid! Fast-forward 30 years, and I have a ten year-old son who is just as picky. He will be at the table in tears if anything with beans is served. I find myself falling into the “three more bites” boat.

    I think keeping kids out of the dark is key. Just letting my son know what the dinner plans are for the week helps relieve some of the anxiety about dinner. Or letting him pick the menu one night a week. Even if it’s pizza every time. It won’t necessarily cure his pickiness–he’ll still pull faces over most things green, leafy, or bean-y, (I , myself, still pick tomatoes out of my pasta and off my sandwiches), but it helps both of us to know there’s at least one dinner a week he looks forward to.

  32. Elizabeth says...

    I was a picky eater as a child (“you wouldn’t eat anything!”) and drove my parents to the brink of insanity. No one had heard the word autism, no one talked about food allergies — you had a kid who would eat or you had a kid like me. I remember very clearly the wonderful feeling of control, that these adults who had sway over every area of my life couldn’t force me to eat. After about age 5 I grew out of it — maybe it just wasn’t fun anymore to torment my mom and dad — but I really think control can be a big issue.

    • Julia says...

      This is my 3 year old. We’ve tried all kinds of stuff: asking him help cook. Planting vegetables with him. Letting him plan the menu. He enjoys all of that, but at the end of the day, he visibly relishes having the power to be in charge of something, and that thing is whether or not he will allow a particular food to cross his lips. (On the flip side, one good way to motivate him to do something is to put him in charge of it–if he doesn’t want to stop playing and go for a walk, for example, you can convince him by asking him to give you directions.) At this point, I’m trusting he will outgrow it eventually, and meanwhile I try to make sure our Monday through Thursday meals are from his tiny list of approved foods (or we can easily adapt them; tonight my husband and I are having fried cauliflower and provolone sandwiches, but the kid will be having a completely plain cheese sandwich), so we’re not making two dinners every weeknight.

  33. Lillian says...

    I recently let my two sons (ages 4 & 2) help me prepare dinner every night. It was something I always wanted to do but resisted because of the extra mess and time it would take. But I read a book recently that changed my perspective. The book was called “Hunt, Gather, Parent” and it talked about how important it is to include your kids in the fold of your everyday life and your everyday chores.

    The author visited a Mayan village and noticed how all the children there were incredibly helpful – some would clean the whole house without being prompted! The author learned that it was because they were included in family activities from the start. As I read this, I realized that when it came to cooking, I would tell my kids to go play while I cooked and then I’d play with them after. But I would always be so tired after cooking, and the kids would be begging to play with me.

    After I read the book, I changed my perspective about the mess/extra time in the kitchen. It really did become about spending quality time together. The kids think of cooking as play anyway – they’re so curious and engaged and have so much fun with it. Sometimes my younger one will wander off, and I don’t pressure him at all to help (although inevitably, he always wanders back in the kitchen again). And the amazing thing is – they really do feel like it’s quality time spent together. After we finish cooking, they go off to play happily on their own. And then when Daddy comes home, they’re so excited to share how they contributed to the meal. And now, whenever they see me start cooking, they grab their stepstools and immediately set up in the kitchen and ask, “How can I help?”

    Cooking together has been transformative for our family.

    • Dahlia says...

      Beautiful.

    • Susan S says...

      I love this!

    • RMaria says...

      I love this! Our daughter is 2.5 and really wants to be in the kitchen with me while I cook (or wants me to be in the other room with her – basically wants to stay close!), so I started involving her but pulling a small table near the counter that she can stand on (safely) and see what happens and help. She doesn’t do much (favourite tasks are grating vegetables or transferring rice/pasta from one container to the other, occasionally brushing oil on something or peeling), but she likes to be right there with me and we talk about what we are doing and how the food is changing as it gets cooked. I don’t think/know if this has changed her attitude towards food, but it’s such a special way to be together and let her be helpful which she loves!

  34. I thought this essay was incredibly moving. I have a very picky eater. He is on the autism spectrum and processes tastes and textures differently. His twin sister will eat anything. I honestly don’t know that helping prepare food will make him more likely to eat it, but I want to invite him into the kitchen for another reason: to teach him how to prepare some of the things he DOES love. I might not always be around to make these things for him. Anyway, gorgeous essay.

  35. gcw says...

    I haven’t read through the comments, too many already for me to sift through. But as a mom of an autistic daughter, I just want to put out here that sometimes picky is not about “choice”. While my daughter hardly has an issue with food, she doesn’t like carbonation. There are kids and adults who have sensory sensitivity. One of our friend’s daughter looks like your typical “picky eater”, she too, is on the spectrum, and isn’t being “picky”, texture is a real thing for her. It may be worth while to try to suss out whether a kid is being generally picky, and whether there is something more. My friend has felt like a failure, defeated, and even with the help of a professional, this is a long term thing they’re working on. Not all solutions are as simple as bringing a child into the kitchen and letting them touch, or pick out the food. It feels a disservice to not acknowledge that there may be more complex reasons the the child/person being a picky eater.

  36. Ellen says...

    The framing of this piece bothers me. It’s very much one person’s experience and not necessarily generalizable. As the mother of a picky eater, I feel blamed. And I promise that I tried, and tried, and tried to get kid cooking and involved and exploring. And it just doesn’t make any difference in what they will eat in the end.

    • Gillian says...

      @Ellen, I totally get this. I have 4 children, one is picky, 3 are not picky at all. The picky one is my second child and she is 10, past the age of typical pickiness. They all live in the same house and are served the same meals. They have all been invited into the kitchen to cook from an early age. We follow the division of labor from Ellen Satter. We eat dinner as a family most nights. Maybe she will out grow her picky eating, but there is literally nothing else I could do to help her.

    • haley says...

      It’s a personal essay…not every piece of writing can directly reflect your own experience, but that doesn’t mean the essay is out to attack or place blame on you.

    • Rachel says...

      I see you, Ellen. I, too, have tried until I have no trying left in me. I’ve read every book on the topic and have attempted every trick in said books with few results. I’ve blamed myself for all of it, and I know everyone else blames me too in the way their “helpful” comments roll so very easily off their tongues.

    • Laura says...

      @Haley: Thank you for this comment, I totally agree with you. Sometimes I find it a little annoying that readers think every piece of personal writing has to reflect their experience! I feel it‘s somewhat troubling that this empathy for others in a different situation seems to be lost somehow.

    • Katie says...

      I am a formerly-picky child turned adventurous-eating adult, and I always wished my parents tried less! I hated the constant attention to my diet and only started eating “normally” when I moved away to where I knew no one. I have a loving and wonderful family! What works for some doesn’t work for all – I would definitely try bringing my own kids into the kitchen, but every situation is different.

      I’m 99% sure I have ARFID, by the way— if you or your kids are struggling with picky eating, Terrible, Thanks For Asking podcast does an eye-opening episode about it. Picky eating can be just as much a social anxiety as an eating anxiety!

    • Mallory says...

      @Laura and @Haley, it’s a personal essay that she’s using to give advice to parents. Her last paragraph is directed at parents (mothers, presumably) so to me the reaction feels justified. It’s not “this is what might have worked for me,” it’s “this is what you should do as a parent,” with a general lack of acknowledgement for the parent experience:

      “So, please, all you parents stuck in the kitchen: let your children in. Let them stir and grate and roll the dough. Let them lick the spoon and pour in the flour too quickly. Yes, it’s messier and maybe a little more time-consuming. But they won’t just learn how to cook, they’ll learn how to eat. Teach them a recipe for living. Inspire a lifetime of trying (for early palates, at least 10 to 15 times). Hey, salty tears are seasoning, too!”

  37. Sn says...

    Wow, what a wonderful, beautifully written, heart touching piece.

  38. E says...

    Virtually every adult female I know chooses not to eat something (or many things!), be it gluten, dairy, nightshades, corn, soy, etc. etc. etc. As adults, though, we get to label this “allergies” or “sensitivities.” I don’t think it’s that much of a mystery where picky eating originates.

    • I find the sudden increase in food sensitivity really interesting. oAre we more in tune with our bodies and how food makes us feel? Is it about control? Is it just veiled attempts at dieting and/or dieting rebranded? It is all so fascinating to me.

    • Sarah says...

      As a parent of a kid with real life-threatening food allergies, this trend makes me crazy. Let’s call it what it is. Preferences or dare I say, pickiness. Or playing into a culture that demonizes foods for a variety of reasons (usually having to do with money if you look into historical diet fads). Definitely interesting, but please stop saying you are allergic to things if you aren’t. People with REAL allergies are sometimes not taken seriously. It happened to us at a bakery once and I had to basically pull out my epi pen before they believed me and verified ingredients. Ugh.

    • A Sad Ex-Gluten Glutten says...

      My whole adult life I have eaten everything – gluten included. I loved bread! Never felt guilty! Least picky eater ever. I used to scoff at people who were “gluten free”. I was always fit and had a hearty appetite. Then, in the last few years something changed, and I am having to cut out long loved food groups in the hopes to regain my full health. I can only speak for myself, but food sensitivities can be serious and make your life miserable. I’ve heard that it might be all of the genetic modifications to our food that are causing an increase in food sensitivities. It makes sense, but I am not a scientist. I am just a person who loves bread and all things dairy and is now having to deprive herself of this great joy for the sake of her health. Yes, maybe some women might deprive themselves for vanity, but sadly some people have no choice.

      Also, I just want to say what a beautifully written post this is! Wonderful. Thank you.

    • K says...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw16LPVnNco

      I found this video on the effect of industrial farming on our health fascinating! It references sensitivities like autoimmune disorders and autism.

    • b says...

      Wow, as someone who has to follow the autoimmune protocol diet (in a nutshell: no gluten, dairy, soy, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, eggs, nightshades) because my body otherwise responds with chronic migraines and diarrhea, joint pain, crushing fatigue, hair loss, and other symptoms as fun as those, I find your comment and your quotation marks really insulting.

    • Cate says...

      Hey! Just your neighbourhood allergic person here to note that no one would choose not to be able to eat whatever they wanted, and often the road to finding those sensitivities and allergies you are so unsure about is often frustrating, expensive, and paved with scary ill health. Compassion my friends. X

    • Becca says...

      I spent ten years being told by dermatologists and ob-gyns that there was nothing I could do to solve my deep, physically scarring, painful cystic acne all over the lower half of my face AND I could look forward to being very unlikely to get pregnant without expensive, invasive help due to my crazy irregular periods and hormonal imbalance (PCOS). I asked over and over again if diet changes (particularly dairy) and supplements could help, and doctor after doctor looked at me quizzically and said no.

      One year ago I went off on my own and stopped eating dairy after doing extensive research on my own. My cystic acne went away, my periods regulated for the first time EVER in 18 years of having a period, and I started ovulating every cycle for the first time in my life (I’ve monitored my ovulation for years — previously I was lucky to ovulate 5 times a year). I got pregnant in my third month of trying, and my doctor said “Oh you got so lucky! Turned out not to be that hard after all!”

      Now I’m “that person” who doesn’t eat dairy, though I’m not allergic. My body cannot handle it. But as I look at my scarred face in the mirror every day and my growing, pregnant body, I know I’m making the right choice for me.

      Not sure what the “point” is of your “quotation” marks, but I have to wonder — what kind of medical information are you looking for others to share in order to “prove” that there is something “worthwhile” behind their food restrictions? Should I be sharing the details of my menstrual cycle health at every dinner party where I eat around the cheese in my salad or request in advance that we have options other than pizza?

    • Laura says...

      Yes B, Cate and Becca!!! Add me to the list…I have sensitivities to many foods, gluten and dairy being the worst, because of an autoimmune disease.

      It flat out sucks to have to consider every single food I eat and I wish I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I’m not going to go into anaphylactic shock if I eat gluten or dairy, but it will cause a lot of pain in my body.

      E, I would like to challenge you to consider that there are many variables that you just don’t know about the lives of others, and to imply that everyone avoiding a certain food is doing is so because of “picky eating” lacks empathy. Just be grateful that you don’t have any food sensitivities, and please stop judging others who do. :(

    • T says...

      Ugh. I thought we were past thinking we knew the state of someone’s health just by looking at them.

  39. Eleonora says...

    What memories did this bring up!! I was a picky eater with a simple rule: nothing that comes from a field or an orchard. I remember endless dinners with me chewing, chewing forever, unable to swallow while my mum was simply waiting and urging me from time to time: “swallow!”. One month on holidays with my grandma’s little supervision and I got scurvy, just to say how little above the healthy line I used to be. Now I eat everything though, from entrails to Brussels sprouts and everything in between. There is hope for picky kids! And I’ll definitely try those tricks with mine.

  40. Sadie says...

    When I was a teenager my mom would often give me a taste of a sauce or soup and ask, “Is it missing anything?” I was generally unhelpful but eventually I was able to articulate what a dish might need more of. I now understand how to balance a dish but it all started with her opening up conversation around flavor. Our long phone calls always include what we have been cooking and our too short of visits are spent feeding each other the best things we can cook up.

  41. Becs says...

    This essay brings grateful tears to my eyes. My kids are not great eaters of veggies, but they willingly try foods and flavors from around the world. I think this is because I regularly let them “sample” my spice cabinet while I’m cooking, and bring them along on my trips to my local spice shop.

    Last spring, it all came together when our covid bubble was just us along with our housemates who have lived in Spain, Korea, and Nicaragua. We started a tradition of feasting on the weekend, picking a country and together making a glorious, adventurous meal. When they were invited into the kitchen to chop and dredge and mix, my kids were suddenly excited to eat Korean zucchini side dish, kimchi, Spanish roasted red peppers, and platanos maduros (savory plantains). Their eyes and tastebuds and hearts were opened simultaneously, and it was a joy!

  42. C says...

    I’ve been very conscious of talking to my kids about food. I decided in 2020, I wasn’t going to fight the battle. I often asked my three year old son what he wanted for dinner, and if we ate chicken nuggets 14 days in a row-so be it. I do not ask for three more bites, if he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want it. If he is hungry later, we have fruit/veggies available on the counter.

    I try really hard to center my conversations more about how food is fuel. I’ll say things like, “I’m adding blueberries to your plate because blueberries make your skin beauttttiful!” and if you don’t want to eat the blueberries, that’s ok too. When he wants snacks, I say things like, “We can have one bar, but bars aren’t great for energy, eating a banana is better for your energy, but it’s your decision!” I have had a personal journey with food and how it has had a lot of control over me, so I’m trying to empower my little ones by making choices about food early on.

    • Martini says...

      Oh Lord C, you should have given some warning about that ” chicken nuggets 14 days in a row”… that’s hilarious.
      My two or three year old got on one of those kicks. I had to take her to the dr. because she’d only eat Oreo cookies for what seemed like forever. Dr. taught me that she’d be fine and when she got hungry enough she’d start to eat normal food again and sure enough she did.
      I haven’t eaten an Oreo cookie since.

  43. Sarah says...

    I was an enormously picky eater as a child–think, no parsley on my pasta, no vegetables, you name it–and now literally pride myself on eating *everything*, I think thanks to my parents using your approach of cooking with me, but also a few other things.

    -First, fortunately my dad had had that experience of being forced to clean his plate as a child, and found it so joyless and insulting to his autonomy that he vowed never to do it as a parent. So I was never forced to eat anything, and as a result, I found meals and mealtime a really fun and happy time to be with my family. My wishes were respected. I think it is powerful as a child to know you have a voice in family decisions, and it defuses control-based battles like eating. I didn’t need to assert my control all the time because folks actually asked me, what would you like to eat, and no you don’t have to eat that if you don’t like it.
    -Second, my parents made simple stuff that was not junk that they knew I would eat alongside their meals (for example, peanut butter sandwiches, eggs, chicken, rice, tons of fruit). Yes, I know this is the opposite of the “we don’t make special meals for kids,” but I will say, it meant meals were never a battle. They simply let shit go, had me eat “well” if not “perfectly” (let’s be real, I barely ate vegetables as a tiny person) and chose not to feel guilty. They did not ever serve junk, but they did not make perfect the enemy of the good.
    -Third, throughout childhood, I cooked with my dad almost daily. I understand that folks find it tiresome to cook with their kids, but I will say as a child, I found it endlessly fascinating to cook with him, and at a certain point, you cannot cook without wanting to try the food. Cue me trying every imaginable vegetable and dish. Also, let’s say you do find it tiresome to cook with your child after a busy day…what about a lazy sunday afternoon? Or when you have friends over for dinner?
    -Fourth, I read an article in high school about how food preferences are 100% learned, not inborn. At this point I had been cooking and trying food long enough that I started to learn the difference between “that flavor is DIFFERENT and NEW” vs. “I don’t like this.” I frankly began to mistrust “I don’t like this,” and force myself to keep trying foods I thought I didn’t like, with an open mind.

    At this point in my life, I know if a flavor is new, it may at first turn me off. That to me means it’s time to eat it often, and give it a chance, and always assume the situation–the way it was made, the ripeness, the quality– is the issue, not the flavor itself. I try to share that insight with teenagers, whom I think are old enough to take it in. For children, I loved my parents approach of never fighting, no junk, and always cooking together.

    • Ker says...

      I’m going to try your parents’ approach with my toddler! Thanks. Life is too short to make meals a battleground and it’s reassuring to hear from so many people who didn’t eat vegetables for years and turned out alright :-)

    • Susan S says...

      This is great!

    • Naomi says...

      Sarah, I hope my kid turns out like you!!!

      At the moment, he is desperately picky. But the approach your parents took sounds like what me and my husband are doing right now. We don’t want dinner time to be a battleground – we want to have a nice time together around the table and most nights we do. We just prep it together, and… provide each family member with food that will fill them up. But I never thought that our approach could have a happy ending like yours :)

  44. Emma says...

    My mom always said, “You never know when your taste buds will change so try it every now and then.” It’s so true! I was picky as a kid, but now I eat just fine! The struggle is real with much two little ones, but trying to remind myself that the long term goal is a healthy, well-adjusted adult helps! Good luck tonight everyone :)

    • Emma says...

      *my

  45. Caitlin says...

    Alas I have a picky 12 year old who is a wonderful sous chef but happy to have everyone else eat the food he prepared while he takes two bites of rice. I know this works for many kids, I’m trying to give mine space and continue a low stress dialogue about the joys of different tastes and textures (even if he won’t eat them).

    I’d also like to thank the person who wrote about how kids with different sensitivities and medical needs may continue to struggle with food and eating! I appreciated that comment so much amongst the general discussion here. So many smart and thoughtful voices on CoJ as always.

  46. Ruth says...

    Very sweet essay buuuuttttt…….she doesn’t have kids! And while I very much appreciate the sentiment and the advice to get your kids to help, sometimes that’s not realistic. When we rush in the door at 5:30 and need to get them fed, having them help us won’t really work if we all want to actually eat. I definitely strive to include them, especially on weekends when we’re not in a rush, but also just want to keep it real out there that it’s not as simple as having them join us in the making part! One way in which I get them to “participate” is to offer choices! That seems to work well.

    • Sadie says...

      This woman is passionate about kids learning about food. She is the writer, producer, AND co-creator of a really cool children’s show. She is encouraging parents to invite their kids into the kitchen by sharing her story. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. But you have have framed this by disqualifying her from a discussion that she is very qualified to be in. You could have said everything you said, without mentioning that she is childfree. So I’d ask you, why did you include that?

    • Becky says...

      My thoughts exactly. If only it were so easy to have my picky eater “help” make dinner. The worst is when your child helps make something and still refuses to eat it haha.

    • Jen says...

      @Sadie, thank you for your comment. As a women who’s intentionally childless, I often feel my opinions are discounted on anything related to children, no matter my area of expertise and knowledge. It’s a lonely and isolating feeling.

    • Mallory Adiego says...

      @Sadie I think Ruth is calling out what I felt was missing in this essay: an acknowledgement to how challenging it can be to include kids in dinner prep. It’s already a chaotic time at the end of the day when everyone is just trying to make it to bedtime. I don’t think you need to have children to advise parents, and I’m totally on board with the encouragement to get kids in the kitchen more, but it did feel to me like there was a lack of empathy for the parents’ perspective, and an over-simplification of what would solve picky eating.

    • AD says...

      Ruth, you’re right that the days can be hectic with children and hunger is not fun to mess with… however, I don’t think Erika was trying to offer a miracle solution to that dilemma and it would be unfair to attack her message in that way.

      Erika wrote a beautiful essay vividly highlighting her own experiences with food as a child and recognizing that for her, being part of the process made a difference. The story of her mother helped her see the possibilities of parent-child relationship during mealtime and that fourth to last paragraph about disliking mayo in tuna salad and needing tartar sauce with fish and chips could connect with so many parents/caregivers.

    • Kelly says...

      Yeah, I have to agree. I like the essay, and it gives me something to think about. That said, for me, being a parent is super different and much harder than imagining being a parent. A non-parent’s ideas and advice can definitely have value and help enormously, but there is a big difference between living the parenting life and not living the parenting life. Becoming a mom has been my humble pie.

    • shannon says...

      As parents, is it not helpful to flip the script sometimes and think of things from the child’s perspective? I love that this article is written from the view of the author’s experience growing up and what ended up working for her.

      There is a wealth of excellent parent perspective focused content regarding food – feeding littles, the comfort food podcast, yummy toddler food. I wholeheartedly recommend going there for more parent perspective focused feeding ideas.

  47. Dominique says...

    Reminds me of this NPR podcast – https://www.npr.org/transcripts/981716581
    I have really worked to have my picky 5yo help in the kitchen. After some practice, she has become quite helpful. Start with easy meals that aren’t rushed – like weekend breakfast. One place this has backfired is with meatballs – she used to love them, but now that she’s helped make them, she realized that onions are in them and then started to refuse to eat them. With nearly everything else, having her help in the kitchen has been a net benefit.

  48. Morgan says...

    Love this piece!

    I was an extremely picky eater as a kid. I was always into food, but just very particular about what I would and wouldn’t eat…. I think I lived on pasta and bagels for the first 10 years of my life. My mom never made a big deal of it though and so mealtimes at home were never a battle. Sure, it was an ordeal at school and when visiting relatives, but home was always safe!

    I’m sure lots of parents would turn their noses up at how much my mom indulged my pickiness, shuffling through my limited menus, but I see it as her respecting me and having my back. Gradually my tastes became more and more adventurous and now I’ll eat anything and have a passion for food and cooking. I think there’s so much wasted angst over fussy eaters and forcing kids to eat stuff against their will when usually it’s just a temporary situation… and even if it’s not temporary, who cares!

    • Kate says...

      YES. Your mom actually was extremely ahead of her time – was she a therapist, by chance? She gave you agency and respected your choices and autonomy. Children who have parents who do this have a better chance of having a positive relationship with food as they age, which it sounds like is the case for you!

    • Sarah says...

      Morgan, my parents did the same and it worked so well for me too! I really relate to what you said! I actually have had moments as an adult where I’ve told folks how lax my parents were and had coworkers chastise my parents retrospectively that they “did feeding wrong.” All I can say is…I now eat everything and dont’ resent my parents for forcing me to eat things. Also, I noticed a few parents on here saying that their tween age children still are picky even though they help cook. The pickiness lasted until high school for me, so hold on!

    • Morgan says...

      Kate – my mom’s not a therapist, but someone who grew up being forced to stay at the table alone for hours to finish their meals and so she knew how counter-productive that approach was. My mom’s always been passionate about food and cooking so I think she also wanted mealtime to be positive and pleasurable!
      I became a more adventurous eater in junior high when I became vegetarian and took a bigger role in food-preparation, but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I really branched out… on my own terms! I think so much about eating is really about choices and autonomy so it seems natural to me that children would want to exercise decision-making power in one of the few areas that they can control…

    • Kelly says...

      My mom did this with me and my siblings as well! She said that she had an instinct that it was bad news to set up food battles, so she didn’t. There were always foods available that we liked but that didn’t create a bunch of extra work for her. All three of us are totally normal about food now, we love to eat and cook, and we don’t have food control issues.

  49. Teach them a recipe for living. Annd I’m crying. Thank you. I loved this.

  50. Annie K. says...

    Reading the comments makes me wish I loved cooking so my kids could learn that from me. But, THEY love cooking so I guess we can learn together!

    As someone who prepares lots of meals but isn’t actually that adept or comfortable in the kitchen, I love the advice to choose just a task or two for them. I also give myself a break- they don’t have to help with EVERY meal. Maybe I make the goal once a week, maybe I limit it to baking mixes. I go through phases.

    The most important thing that I’ve learned and am still learning is to say Yes when they ask to help. I found myself rejecting them over and over and kinda “get” where that will lead to, so Yes you can help! Of course you can help, is the most valuable tool for me. Sometimes it’s yes! you can help with this task, or sometimes it’s yes! Tomorrow we’ll bake something.

  51. katie says...

    This essay was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    Last Christmas, I gifted my two nieces (15 and 11) and my nephew (4) cookbooks to suit each of their tastes. The 15yo, Mexican, the 11yo, baking, and the 4yo, beginners.

    Within hours, the 4yo was on the couch deciding what he wanted to make for dinner. His first meal was black bean quesadillas, guacamole and buttered noodles. He was the chef so who was my sister to say no that that combo? My sister messaged us the other day and he finally picked his second meal. My heart melted.

    A couple weeks ago, pictures were sent of the 15yo’s Mexican feast, made from the Mexican Home Kitchen, which I ordered for her after seeing it here.

    I don’t think the 11yo has used the cookbook yet, but I do know she concocts desserts from whatever is in the kitchen. And they’re delicious.

    My fondest memories are from around the kitchen table. I’m so happy that the tradition carries on.

    • celeste says...

      Terrific job, auntie!

  52. Theresa says...

    My almost 7 year old (in her works, “two sleeps!” has watched “Waffles and Mochi” two times through already! She loves it. It has helped her think about food variety and origin. We always talk about that, but it was helpful to see it in this show. She still is picky about food, but I’m hoping someday that will change! If not, that’s okay, too. I stressed too much about it when she was younger and trying not to anymore. Her pediatrician wasn’t concerned and when I listed all she does it, she said “that’s great!” and it is! Thanks for this post!

  53. Laura says...

    But how do you repair a picky adult eater when the damage has already been done? How did you overcome your food fears?

    • Irina says...

      One of the things that seems to have worked for my husband is trying foods or flavors that he doesn’t normally like, in the context of a different cuisine than the one he grew up with. For example, he doesn’t typically like combining sweet and savory flavors – but he will happily eat Chinese food, where these flavors often co-exist. He usually doesn’t enjoy herbs or spices – but he’s discovered that he does, when they are part of Indian food. And, one time when we went to France, he ordered French onion soup, which would normally be his worst nightmare given that the one food he still detests to this day is cooked onions – and, incredibly, he loved it!

    • Jo says...

      Hi Laura, I developed a phobic aversion to fish growing up, and when I got to college I decided I wanted to deal with it. I started by incorporating tiny amounts of tinned tuna fish to tomato sauces. From there I moved on to “meaty” fish – my flatmate at the time recommended a tuna steak with lime and soy sauce. And little by little, my palate expanded. 15 years later I love to eat fish. It was definitely a challenge in those early this years, and I think it helped to treat it as such and have a plan of action.

      To chime into the conversation about kids and eating, we’ve learned a lot raising our 5 year old son, the main thing being: don’t take his food aversions seriously. We’ve learned to keep serving up the foods he says he hates, and he’ll often do a 360. I had to laugh recently when he took a bite of avocado and declared it his “favourite vegetable”, after at least a year of disgusted avoidance!

    • C says...

      Hi Laura!

      For my husband, it’s been helpful to get really curious and granular about the specifics of what he does/doesn’t like. It’s helped me figure out ways to incorporate new foods that he is on board with, and also helped get outside the stuck-ness of the “picky” label. Treating it like a big experiment was more motivating and removed a lot of the pressure that I think “picky” folks can feel.

      So for example, my husband (who I never saw eat a fruit or vegetable for the first 4 years I knew him) would have told you he did NOT like broccoli. But through lots of trial and error now we know that he’ll happily eat it if it’s roasted nice and brown, especially with any kind of spicy sauce. And that has taken the resistance wayyyyy down, to where he’ll often eat it incorporated into other dishes (like quiche) even if it is just steamed.

      I hope that makes sense!!

  54. Amrita says...

    Years ago, on an annual visit to see my sister and 3 young nephews, I suggested to the boys we play a game called Restaurant, where we cook and serve meals to their (exhausted) parents. The boys were thrilled to make a menu, role play as servers, and help cook and clean. They got to be grownups for a few hours.

    Fast forward 5 years and it’s still a favourite game for the boys to play, only now they are also old enough to walk to the grocery store and buy the ingredients. They have also started charging for their meals, and counting their profits, which is hilarious.

    This might be a nice alternative to kids in the kitchen daily, which many have commented is too exhausting.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Toby and Anton do this sometimes! They have a restaurant called “A T Incredible” (not sure why!) and they’ll make simple things like a smoothie or fruit salad. They always draw a menu. :)

  55. Irina says...

    Yes! I don’t have kids yet but I’d love to have them help prepare meals, as I did when I was little. There are always tasks that even a wee one can help with. One of my first jobs in the kitchen was cranking the handle of our old-school cast iron meat grinder. And if a kid is still too small to help even with something as simple as that, they can still “participate” by watching and sampling :)

    Also, a huge yes to not forcing kids to eat, and to serving meals family-style so everyone can help themselves to as much or as little of anything on the table. I ate almost everything willingly as a child, although a few tricks like telling me entertaining stories and slipping a piece of food into my mouth while I listened had to be employed in order to get me to eat a little faster when I was a toddler.

    However, my husband was an extremely picky eater growing up, and also oftentimes was simply not hungry enough to consume the amount of food that his parents expected him to. His parents were firmly in the “clean your plate and say thank you” camp and enforced it through punishment. Also, his mother and grandmother shared cooking and grocery shopping responsibilities and never involved any other family members, except maybe to send one of the kids out to pick up a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. Luckily, my husband developed a healthy appetite once he hit his teenage years, and will now eat almost anything. But, he still resents what he had to go through as a young child, and is now dead set against making kids eat against their will.

  56. Alexandra says...

    Book recommendation on this topic: “First Bite: How We Learn to Eat” by Bee Wilson. She writes about, well, how we learn to eat, how taste evolves, and picky eating, and that you really can retrain your brain (even as an adult!) to become a less picky eater if it’s something you want to do.

    https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780465064984

    Second, can we talk about how delightful Waffles & Mochi is?! It’s the only show I’ve insisted on watching with my son.

    • Becca says...

      That book is a really good recommendation, I second it.

  57. Sarah K says...

    This was beautifully written! It also made me crave a lot of different foods.
    I have a picky eater kid who hates everything I cook. I know all the tricks, I serve items completely plain (like separating pasta from the sauce, etc) but he still basically eats none of it. However I have decided that it doesn’t matter- he is happy and healthy and that is enough. I don’t have the stamina for dinnertime battles.

  58. Caroline says...

    Well-written and so true!

  59. Erin says...

    This is a lovely essay, and getting kids to help cook is a *great* idea.

    But it won’t go the whole way to solving picky-eating battles for most families. A great, comprehensive resources is Ellyn Satter’s “Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” recommended to me several years ago by another mom with kids a few years older than mine:
    https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/

    I really like that it makes clear what parents need to do (provide healthy foods, a calm envioronment at meals, regular mealtimes), while also encouraging parents to trust their kids’ autonomy over their bodies’ hunger/fullness cues, and to trust that kids have the ability to *learn* to eat a variety of foods and behave appropriately at meals.

    • L says...

      I like that division! I have a friend whose mother fed him through high school. Literally shoved food in his mouth while he was given a book to read, because she knew best what he should eat and in what quantities.

      Crazy.

  60. Rebecca says...

    I was a picky eater as a kid. I dreaded having to eat at friends houses for dinner. I also had a small appetite, so being served large mounds of food I didn’t like was a very real anxiety inducing situation for me as a child. Plus at school you had to show your lunch plate to a teacher, who would judge if you had eaten enough to be allowed to go out and play. However my mum was great and never forced me to eat anything I didn’t want to. Over time I became more adventurous and now as an adult I will eat anything. The fact that whenever I ate at home I didn’t have to worry was so wonderful to me as a child. Home for me was very much the soft landing place from one of Joanna’s earlier pieces.

  61. K says...

    I’m going to try this with my picky husband! I’ve kicked him out of the kitchen for the last time *fingers crossed*!

  62. Bonnie says...

    A veggie tray and hummus out before dinner is always devoured, too. I cut a lot one day and then it gets used for the pre-dinner veg tray or salads or chopped smaller for soups. And maybe a dinner is just fruit and veg at times… That’s fine.

  63. Becca says...

    I completely get this, and even agree. However, cooking to me is a form of relaxation at the end of a busy day. Alone with my thoughts, I enjoy mindless chopping and mixing. The last thing I want is my kids with me in the kitchen. I’m one of the few people grateful for a NOT open-concept kitchen. There are plenty of times that I cook with my kids, but I cannot do it on a daily basis AND maintain my sanity.

    • Allie says...

      Yup, me too!

    • Caitlyn says...

      It may not be the popular view, but I agree. This has especially been the case over the last year with my kids learning at home and me working from home. Dinner prep is how I transition from being ‘on’ for the day to turning ‘off’ and relaxing into our evening routine.

    • AN says...

      saaaame. i love the idea of this, in theory, but by the end of my work days i am actually just very excited to be in the kitchen alone without my 2 year old and 6 year olds. i can definitely opt for this on the weekends, but weekdays just feel tooooo crazy.

    • M says...

      Agree 100%

    • Ellliesee says...

      Oh yes! Please no loud kitchen for me at the end of the day! The kids can cook though.

    • Neela says...

      Haha, true that. My MIL always says ‘it’s hard enough without your help!’ However, if my nerves aren’t completely fried and my kids ask to help I try to let them- as much as I can bear letting go of my control in the kitchen… also, baking is a nice compromise- rarely happens when you’re just arriving home to prepare dinner, and it’s even pretty toddler-friendly.

  64. Marisa says...

    From the point of view of the child, this is a sweet idea. But from the point of view of an exhausted working parent, it’s much more than “maybe a little more time consuming” to have the kids “help.” Cooking dinner is my only moment in the day to listen to a podcast, zone out, and not talk to anyone. My kids know this is how it works, and they play together while I cook (usually… but sometimes we resort to putting on a show.) As an introvert in a job where I talk to people nonstop all day, this quiet cooking time is a much needed moment for me. My kids do ask to help, and once a week or so I let them make a mess with me on a baking project. But at dinner time, no way, not happening.

    • Jen says...

      Totally get this, and Becky’s comment above along similar lines resonates with me, too. I’ve devised some quick-and-dirty helping tasks that keep the kids involved but not All Involved, All The Time: I’ll ask for a pasta tester, green bean trimmer, egg whisker, toast supervisor… they come, do a task, poke around the pots, taste a bit, and then off they go leaving me to my zen cooking space.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “a pasta tester, green bean trimmer, egg whisker, toast supervisor” = so cute

  65. celeste says...

    Yes! Over quarantine, we got some Raddish Kids cooking kits for our 13 year old (age range 4-13) and she made a ton of desserts with her summer nanny last year. I don’t think I learned to cook until I was in my early 20s – so important!

  66. Dawn says...

    My Mom never turned me away from the kitchen to help her always giving me age-specific tasks to do with her. Consequently, I grew up not only loving everything about food – the taste, obviously, but also the sound, feel, sight and smell; I also grew up with my Mom’s sense of adventure in cooking. She tried new recipes all the time, especially with guests saying, “If it doesn’t turn out, we’ll order in Chinese.” I never realized what a gift my Mother gave me until I grew up and my girlfriends all asked me how I learned to love to cook. At my Mom’s side, in the kitchen!

  67. Christina says...

    Another advice is letting everyone help themselves to the food. We bring all pots and bowls to the table and everyone can have as much or as little as they wish, no set portions, and nothing on your plate that you didn’t wish for. One of my children sometimes eat like an adult, sometimes hardly anything, and we never know which day what happens. Less whining and less waste!

    • Alexandra Pappas-Kalber says...

      Yes! My kids (2 + 5) both eat way more on taco night when they get to choose exactly what to put on their tortillas than they do on any night where i dish out for them (except pizza night…). I’m going to start letting them serve themselves more often.

    • Kate says...

      Yes, as an adult even now I always have two servings – the first one is a small bit of everything, and then I go back and get larger portions based on how full I feel after the first serving and which items I liked best. I feel bad for picky eaters and parents fighting with their children to eat. It honestly sounds like hell to have portions controlled and being begged to finish what’s on the plate, and I’m sure parents don’t enjoy it either.

      My mom said when she was a child there were many nights she ate only puffed wheat cereal because that’s all she wanted, and thankfully she adopted the same laissez-faire attitude with us and there were no fights over food (but we also weren’t picky eaters). There were certainly nights when I didn’t like what was on my plate but I don’t remember going to bed hungry either. If I wanted food, there were leftovers in the fridge…or there was always apple with peanut butter :)

  68. kat says...

    After the Waffles & Mochi salt episode, I went to the local spice store to get black lava salt, pink salt, white large crystal salt, and red Hawaiian salt. We sprinkled it on plain buttered pasta with our 3 and 6.5 yr old for taste tests. So much fun bringing the episode to life!
    I’ll echo getting kids into the kitchen as well as growing food. After a very picky big bro, little bro got modified Baby Led Weaning. He is a food champ. It’s remarkable. We have a teeny, tiny kitchen but got him one of those kitchen helpers for his 2nd birthday and he’s been my buddy ever since. I paid more for the style that partially folds up but, you guessed it, a year in and we’ve never folded it out of the way – only folded to take in the car during an extended trip ;-). Set of plastic chef’s knives and he’s handling all the mushroom chopping. He’ll happily get chives from our tiny front garden and mix with cream cheese to dip pretzels. It is a delight, and I can see him rubbing off on big bro occasionally, too.

    • I would love a post about Baby Led Weaning! The idea is intriguing but trying it is really hard (especially watching my baby gag!!!). Any tips (besides following Solid Starts and Feeding Littles on IG, lol) are welcome!

  69. Jamie says...

    So while I totally get that, at 5:30pm after I’ve been working all day, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner. Compound that with my kid “helping”, and I turn into an impatient monster (“Don’t touch that, it’s hot! Don’t spill! You have to wash your hands after touching the chicken!”). And then I feel guilty (argh to Mom Guilt!!). I’ve realized that while I love the IDEA of a family all in the kitchen together helping to make a meal, it just makes me more frazzled to get something to the dinner table. I wish I was a cool, calm, and collected cook, but alas, I am not. So the best thing for our family is for them to stay out. :) Yes, we have similar “three more bites” conversations, but my son is old enough now where, while he doesn’t WANT to eat it, he’ll eat it without complaint. Sometimes, haha.

    • aquadine says...

      Maybe let your husband cook the meal and you focus on the kid’s “help”? That’s win/win for everyone – quality family time. Because it sounds like cooking is not your thing and I don’t blame you. I live alone and it’s a chore. Just let your husband deal with it!

    • Reba says...

      Jamie, your comment is my life! Cooking is my least favorite chore and the last thing I want to prolong or fight about after work. I’d serve everybody PB&J for three meals a day if it wouldn’t cause a riot. The guilt is real…but also, the patience is finite! I have given up on weeknight dinners as teachable moments, but I think I could be persuaded to try this for a weekend brunch or maybe a dessert project once a week…

    • Alex says...

      Same! I save “helping” with cooking for weekends. And even then its not my favorite thing… Maybe my kids are just still too young (2+5), because I do have VERY fond childhood memories of helping my dad clean shrimp or mixing dough with my mom.

    • M says...

      And there’s no guarantee it will work. My kids help me cook and still won’t touch the food when it comes to the table 😞
      We try every suggestion and the only thing that gets them to eat/ try bites is bribery for dessert. And I know that nutritionists would cringe at us putting treats on a pedestal but I feel no guilt as it works for us where nothing else would!

    • M says...

      Yes my kids are 2 and 5 as well and it is so stressful having them in the kitchen. It’s just not something I’m up for after working all day and trying to get some kind of meal on the table before the bath/bed/clean up/make lunches gauntlet.

  70. chloe says...

    This is a great tip that works for sure but why is it that French kids eat anything their parents eat? What is the difference? Why??? We are obviously doing it waaay wrong.

    • Agnès says...

      Hello Chloe, my kid is 7 and a picky eater! we’re french, even french-mexican, so, we cook a variery of great and fun food and the market is round the corner. We love food and we invite our son to cook with us, which he sometimes does. But, he will not eat mushrooms, green beans, some fish, tomatoes, and many many other veggies. He doesn’t even like cheese (?!). I don’t get it! We’ve never forced him to eat, I’m completely against that. I try to relax and have him decide on the menu, but not all the time. The one thing that helps is when he has lunch at school: lunch in public schools is a very healthy and balanced meal and he has discovered things he likes. I don’t think there are any secrets! (and definitely not any french secret!)

    • Meghan says...

      Speaking of French kids, I remember years ago my family spent a summer in France. Our normal way of traveling was to house trade (you stay in someone’s house, they stay in yours), and since you have essentially strangers staying in your house, alllllll the neighbours come by and say hi (and make sure you’re not stealing everything). We ended up having a regular weekend lunch with one of the neighbours, and they had CHILDREN’S WINE. It was unsweetened grape juice (the same juice that they use to turn into wine), sold in little mini wine bottles. So at the beginning of the meal, they poured the kids’ wine alongside the adult wine. I remember feeling so very grown-up, and also somewhat scandalized. It was the best thing ever.

    • Lindsey says...
    • JDMD says...

      As a counterpoint to this, our best friends (three houses away!) moved here from Paris 8 years ago, and despite all of their best efforts, their 6-year-old daughter is just as picky as our 6-year-old daughter. French society approaches food very differently than the US. The American emphasis on individualism trickles down even to “small” choices like what we teach our kids about food.

    • Michelle says...

      Or french moms are lying 😅

    • Jen says...

      We’re half French/living in France and quite frankly, French kids don’t eat everything: this just a provocative phrase that sells a lot of books to anxious Americans. That said, there is less a concept here of kids food/adult food: you put what you make on the table and if kids don’t want to eat it, no big deal! Don’t say anything about it! No pleading, no begging, no explaining! They can have baguette, cheese, and a yogurt for dessert and off to bed they go! They’ll be good and hungry the next day and are more likely to eat whatever you put in front of them.

    • AN says...

      that’s a total sham ;) my best friend lives in France and has a 5 year old, and was afraid she’d stand out because her kid is a more selective eater. turns out, french kids are just kids who live in france, lol. they have picky eaters/selective eaters just like we do here.

    • Claire says...

      Karon Le Billon, who is the author of the book mentioned in Lindsay’s comment here, has a website, which is fascinating. I especially love the French Kids School Lunch Project page that includes a link to actual school lunch menus. I was astounded- here is one day’s menu: Cucumber salad with vinaigrette, Salmon lasagna and organic spinach, Cheese fondu with baguette for dipping, organic fruit compote. In my next life I want to be a French kid, if only to eat better school lunches.
      here’s the link: https://karenlebillon.com/french-school-lunch-menus/

    • Agnès says...

      I have checked the website of karen le billon (who pretends that french kids aren’t picky eaters ahahaha), and one thing strikes me: “there is no kids’ food here”, true, what do you mean “kids’ food”? like special food, for kids? I don’t get it, I’m all ears.

    • Claire says...

      Hi, Agnes – by “kids food” I think she is referring to fast food items that are common in the US and popular with children. The list includes items like chicken nuggets, French fries, pizza, macaroni and cheese, burgers, hot dogs, chips. Many restaurants, regardless of what the regular menu items are, have a separate special kids menu that includes these foods.

    • Agnès says...

      @ Claire; thanks for your reply; we do have kids’ food then! usually restaurants have a special menu for children that would be chicken and fries or steak and fries, and ice cream…

  71. Hannah says...

    I usually try not to write negative comments here, so I’ll try to make this a constructive criticism…. For parents of children with sensory issues and feeding difficulties, for those who hear messages of “it’s so simple to feed your kid if you only do this” even when it’s not and then feel a sense of utter failure, and for those who feel a sense of failure when they have to seek professional help to do the most basic task a parent should be able to do for all species, the title of this post was incredibly triggering. Maybe something along the lines of “How My Picky Eating Habits Went Away” or something that is more personal and not click-baity would be more helpful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I came up with the title and wasn’t 100% about it. I would love to change it to your suggestion, if that’s okay with you!

    • Hannah says...

      Thank you Joanna! I appreciate your kind and caring response and this wonderful environment you’ve created!

  72. Heather says...

    As a child, my parents took a more military approach to things. Our plates were set for us. If your plate wasn’t cleaned in a timely fashion, the stove timer was set for 5 minutes. If you weren’t finished before it went off, a spanking was coming your way and you would be allotted an additional 5 minutes. I have battled an eating disorder for the better part of my life; in great part due to control issues over food. When my own kids began to eat table food (one of whom was very finicky), I always served something that I knew they liked along with a few new things that they might try or even just look at on their plate. I read somewhere that kids need to see a new food 15 times before they will accept it. A pleasant, fear-free dinner table goes a long way in encouraging a picky eater.

    • jane says...

      Oh god what an awful experience. The only comfort is perhaps that they meant well.

      It is sad when people confuse “doing the right thing” with doing their job at the expense of their heart. The heart is ALWAYS right.

      I was fortunate I guess in that my parents’ strategy was, “when you get hungry enough you’ll eat what is provided”, period, end of story.

  73. Sarah Evridge says...

    Having a picky eater can cause so much stress, heartache and frustration for parents. If there are any parents out there struggling, there is an incredibly helpful Instagram account- Kids Eat In Color. The woman behind it, Jennifer Anderson has created some remarkable resources. Complete meal plans, picky eating guides and an entire program to encourage kids to eat. Her vibe as a mother is chill, respectful and inclusive, and she feels like a safe place on the internet. Even if you don’t have kids, she’s a great follow.

    • kat says...

      Yes! She’s fantastic. I recommend her to new moms all the time. I feel like we’d be friends IRL.

    • Agnès says...

      fantastic, I’ve just checked it and it seems like I can learn a lot!!

    • suri says...

      I don’t have children but isn’t it only stressful if you are into forcing them to eat? Why not let them miss a meal or two? What’s the big deal specifically at dinnertime when they’ll be going to bed? They won’t have hours ahead to be hangry, they’ll have a stress-free sleep and be ready to eat the next day.

    • Olivia says...

      To Suri: yes, you’re right, and that is the official advice. It’s hard to do, bc a) you feel like a truly horrible parent if they ask you for xyz food and you say no and they go hungry bc of your refusal – it is a hard mom guilt to get past and b) the hungrier they are the hangrier they are and it can bake bedtime just so sucky.

    • Diana says...

      This is in reply to Suri – it’s stressful when you have a kid that doesn’t have the attention span to eat enough calories at dinner, and then wakes up crying and delirious at 3AM because they’re so hungry. I don’t really get stressed about my kid eating enough food at any other meal, but I get stressed about it at dinnertime because protecting her sleep and my sleep is really important to me.

    • Amanda says...

      To try to answer Suri’s question about “what is the big deal” I will try to offer an anecdote. I could call my five year old a “picky eater” because he has a pretty limited palate and he is usually not willing to try new foods or anything beyond what he usually eats. That being said, he does eat some variety of foods and often he eats a lot of it. So, if I make a dinner and he doesn’t like it the rules at our house is he has to try it, but then he is free to not eat it. I don’t stress over this because I know he will wake up the next day and eat and I know he’s eaten food at other mealtimes that day. But, I have a friend with a kid the same age and every single meal time is a struggle to get her to eat really anything. I can’t imagine how stressful that would be. For example, if we order sandwiches for lunch my kid will down a 6 inch turkey sub while she is cajoling hers to eat a slice of the cheese. Having witnessed this it’s made me realize there is a range when it comes to “picky eaters.” For some parents with kids on the more extreme end of this range I do think it’s incredibly stressful and hard. Sorry to speak for parents experiencing this and maybe this isn’t what the original poster was trying to convey. But, I just wanted to share that it can be incredibly challenging for some kids and parents.

    • mado says...

      I love Kids eat in color!

    • Kat says...

      +1 to kids eat in colour

      I do get stressed at dinner time because of he doesn’t it, then it is harder to get the LO to sleep and then he is cranky the next day and then he is less likely to eat dinner or try a new food and then …..

      We do also force one bite at least. Kiddo has a decent palate and will often like something he refuses to try (eg no sauce), once he has a bite. He will even refuse “new” desserts and we apply the same rule (only dessert he actually rejected was creme brûlée). He is allowed to say “I don’t feel like eating that right now” but no alternatives will be provided, unless it is a brand new food that he tastes and doesn’t like. (Spicier things etc)

      I personally have not actually seen a correlation between kiddo helping in the kitchen / menu planning and food consumption – nor does he appear to understand the portion that he can / wants to eat.

  74. Samantha says...

    Ellyn Satter Institute is a great resource! It’s all about creating joyful and positive eating and feeding experiences with kids and families!

    • Kate says...

      Yes please! While this is a beautiful read, I would love to have Cup of Jo offer its community some information on Satter’s Division of Responsibility. Nothing has done more to transform my family’s relationship with food and cooking and mealtimes. Virginia Sole Smith (NYTimes) and Amy Palanjian (Yummy Toddler Food) are great resources on this topic and present it well on their Comfort Food podcast. Dr. Katja Rowell also has great content related to the Division of Responsibility.

    • Anu says...

      Came here to say this! Also, while bringing kids into the kitchen may be part of the solution – from the other side of this, as a parent, it seems like a fairly incomplete one.

  75. JoeGines says...

    Beautiful! From beginning to end.

    PS – i love fried trout. My fav.

  76. Mouse says...

    Wonderful story. And yes, when you learn to cook, you learn to eat. I was unlucky enough to have my mother die when I was young, but then lucky that my father, realizing he had 3 daughters to feed, apprenticed himself to my mother’s Greek/Italian mother. She was a great cook from 2 great cooking traditions. Consequently my family is obsessed with cooking and eating. The pandemic question of “what’s for dinner?” was a constant in our 1970s household. Whoever got home first from work or school would usually whip up spaghetti aglio e olio although we didn’t call it that. My sister went to culinary school and chef’d for awhile. Most of our conversations 40 years later are still about food…..

  77. Tabitha says...

    This is so true! My notoriously picky 8-year old nieces love to cook with me and then gobble up whatever “they made” and they proudly tell everyone that they “made us all dinner.” It amazed my sister, who’s an all star mom with a ton of tricks up her sleeve, but as a former picky eater myself, somehow I nailed this one.

  78. E E Deere says...

    What a good story and good advice, thanks. I also had a mother whose motto was “Get out of my kitchen.” It didn’t put me off food, that was lucky. My kids liked most everything too, double lucky.
    Some of the common threads in two generations of cooking are:
    1. No rules about clean your plate, but also plates are served with a full variety of food and modest portions. And extras available if they are still hungry.
    2. Put a big salad out first, while the rest of dinner comes together. Especially with teenagers, it will be eaten.
    3. Not a lot of snacks available. And snacks are mostly apples, etc.
    4. Eat with your kids, even Saturday breakfast. Pleasant company makes for better appetites. Enjoy each other.
    5. Encourage and/or play with your kids outside. They will be hungrier that way.
    6. If possible, let them grow a few veggies or herbs or berries. Someone who grows chives in a pot can be the designated garnish chef.
    7. My dad’s rule was that if you complained about a meal then you cooked the next one. That was it for rules about eating. Very effective. Either you learned to not reflexively gripe or you learned to cook a meal.
    8. And if the kids still won’t eat, well, at least they have a positive background to build on. And they will be better guests at sleepovers, parties, etc.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      These are great!

    • Michelle K says...

      I completely agree about the salad (especially with teenagers) – if need be have a back up salad in the fridge – pack it with carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and a bit of salty cheese and it’s gone WAY before dinner. Veggie box checked.

    • Agnès says...

      These are great thank you so much! I love number 5.

  79. Katey says...

    Oh my gosh! I couldn’t get past the word “globule” without writing in celebration. You totally captured the vibe of being a picky eater.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Hahaha yes!